Monday, 30 August 2010

Recent Book Purchases

I’ve made four book purchases of note recently.
Firstly, artist Max Ernst 1891-1976. I stumbled across his work originally in the modern art museum Munich. His technique of “Frottage” sparks the imagination where he scrapes paint on a canvas over a contoured background, eg – bark, creating unearthly landscapes and unsettling forms. Actually, he more accurately called it “Grattage” – the French for scrape. Although “Frottage” is still used (meaning “to rub”) to describe his work, if you look it up, it also is a colloquial term for dry humping, so lets not confuse things….
In summary Ernst was deeply effected by serving in the First World War, I’m not claiming to know much more than what I’ve looked up or seen, but his autobiography begins "Max Ernst died the 1st of August, 1914", so I’m going to add that onto my wishlist too.
Another interesting fact brought to my attention by a proper Art Historian (thanks Miriam!) is that he was deeply effected by the death of his pet bird as a child and a lot of his work also incorporated birds. And you can feel that, without sounding too pretentious, in the deep melancholy in some of his pieces.
Which brings me onto my first book purchase… when I was in Paris recently, the modern art museum had a book on display called Une semaine de bonté. It had a series of animal headed figures, including bird headed ones and prostrate bodies in dramatically posed disturbing scenes. Ernst pulled this book together by cutting up and collaging various sources (magazines, newspapers, books) to create a graphic novel of sorts. I found a modern reprint of it for sale on Amazon, so I bought it. It’s the kinda weird shit I like.

If I saw these two dudes fighting, I wouldn’t take sides, I’d just run away….

The second book I purchased is about a Japanese artist and printmaker, Ohara Koson (1877 – 1945). His work, depicting animals, especially birds, flowers and trees are evocative and beautiful.
Little is known of the artist himself, but his work speaks for itself. It’s pretty much a source catalogue of his work, with some complementary text as to his life and possible influences.
What I find interesting is there is a lively and accessible market for his original work. I may start saving up to buy a print myself one day…. of a crow… obviously. But crows will be the subject of another blog.
The book is called Crows, Cranes and Camelias, the Natural world of Ohara Koson. (By Newland).

My third purchase…. it’s about tube stations (nerd alert)… and one of the foremost architects of the day (1920s/30s) Charles Holden 1875 - 1960. Having spent most of my youth traversing up and down the Piccadilly line, I feel part of it. The stations in the northern section are sleek and modern, full of sexy (can a tube station be sexy? Yes, but no so much as to develop inappropriate behaviour leading to my arrest) curves and lines. Southgate tube station, with its circular form, like a flying saucer is my favourite. As you approach when it’s brightly lit at night, I can imagine myself as a 1930’s spiv, lighting a woodbine against the brim of my trilby and trying to sell watch straps to housewives. Or whatever it is that spivs sell. Is it art deco? I dunno, I’m no expert, but it makes me proud to be a londoner. And a 1930’s spiv.

A pic of Manor House (my most local station as a kid) tube platform from back in the day…

Southgate tube station, where I went to college and took my first steps as a computer loser (and spiv). Even though the shops are different today, the shop frontages and signs use the same low key font and design.

Charles Holden’s last (finished 1937) and arguably most famous building though is Senate House, part of the University of London, but taken over by the government under the Ministry of Information during the second world war. It is an Art Deco monster, imposing and looming over you. It cuts an impressive sight even today when there are so many taller buildings dominating the London skyline.
You can tell why Orwell, who worked there during the war, used it as his inspiration for the “Ministry of Truth” as part of his novel 1984. (photo from wikipedia)
And my final book, and the one I’m most proud of, is I’ve finally got a copy of “Skeletons” by Ray Bradbury… and not only that, but signed by the author! I mentioned this in my blog of 7th April, where I declared my love of Ray Bradbury and his works and also of artist Dave McKean. Well, now I have a copy…
There is an amazing bookshop in LA called “Mystery and Imagination”. If I lived there, I’d be in it most days I’m sure, to browse around. Lots of rare / signed copies of cool books from various authors, deliver to Europe too. Have a browse…!
Ray Bradbury, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday in an event at the shop, had signed it on a previous visit… and lucky me, I bought it! I’m very proud and honoured. Happy birthday Ray Bradbury, and thankyou Mystery and Imagination!

The ink of a master storyteller…

Some art from McKean and wordage from Bradbury….

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Saving a baby from falling down the stairs

Yesterday, I got back to the station from a day at work in London and in front of me was a grandmum and her daughter, who was pushing a baby buggy. They looked a bit haggared, eroded in the wind, like a cliff face battered by the North Atlantic. Broken pieces of foundation flying off them like cornflakes. The grandmum was particularly hard looking, huge hooped earings, grim determined lines in her face, a harsh slash for a mouth, I half expected a fork tongue to poke in and out, but it didn't of course. Although that would have been cool.

I looked up at the stairs which led to street and had one of those awkward moments where I thought should I offer to help or not? In my best friendly disarming cockney voice, 'Allo madams, (doffs cap - if I was wearing one) I see you've got a bit of dilemma on yer 'ands, well let me 'elp ya. I wont charge you a farthing, let alone a shilling. It's me pleasure madams'.

I've been told curtly in the past to piss off and mind my own business when I've offered to do this, or viewed with suspicision as I do look like a dickensian villain who will steal your brief case and fence the contents off to buy broth. So on this occasion, and I must admonish myself, for I should not be swayed by how some people view my genuine offers of help and thus become one of the silent majority who become utterly self centred because of their pride. But at this point, I thought "fuck them" and let them get on with carrying their buggy up the stairs.

The grandmum had forearms like Popeye though, she was a downsight stronger than me by the looks of her. Probably a bare knuckle boxer in her day, so I didn't feel too bad about it.

Anyway, so they start their ascent, grandmum in front, veins all popping in her arm as she drags it up one handed, the more willowy daughter pushing upwards, and the younger lady shouts “MUM! I CAN’T HOLD IT!” and the buggy starts tipping sideways, ready to spill the baby. So that’s when I was required, so I readied my sinews for a majestic leap to save the child, catching it, before cracking my skull against the metal wall and dying myself, the sprawled but safe child cooing on my brain splattered body. In that split second I saw the headlines. “Hero dies saving baby”, except some bald northern dude intervened instead, who looked a bit like a fat Bruce Willis with no teeth, “Ere, let me help thee love” or whatever Yorkshire shit he spewed forth from his cake hole. He just steadied the buggy with one hand and helped to lift it up the stairs.

And the baby was safe. But I was ready. I tell you, I was ready to die.